Of Legacy and Loss

By on September 13, 2017

I’m not quite sure of how to begin this post as I know my words will be sorely insufficient. It’s been an upsetting week, to say the least. For the purposes of this blog, I’m framing recent events in terms of a reminder. A reminder of what really matters in life. A reminder to let go of the junk that doesn’t matter at all. 

My hometown was rocked with a huge loss one week ago. A classmate of mine passed away suddenly, the victim of an auto accident. Just an ordinary day, going about the routine, and a sixteen-year-old’s failure to stop at a stop sign changed everything. Thankfully, none of her family members were with her in the car, but my friend Emily died at the scene. 

Just like that. One moment, she was thinking of any of a thousand tasks she needed to do, as a busy wife and mother of six. The next moment, she was gone and her sweet family, plus countless other loved ones, were left grieving. What an unspeakable loss.

It’s the kind of thing that happens all too often, yet when it happens to you or someone you know, it feels completely surreal. Impossible. Not her. I first heard the news from my mom, who of course follows all of my school friends on Facebook and had seen comments that hinted at the tragedy. She called me late that night to see if I knew anything, and within a few minutes I had learned that it was indeed our Emily, and the shocking truth that she was gone. 

“You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psalms 139:16

I know my words will fall far short today, but I still want to share a little bit about this woman because she was so amazing. I hadn’t seen her or spoken to her in real life since college, but thanks to social media, we’d kept up on each other’s milestones. Just a few days before her accident, I had been pondering and for some reason realized that Emily was the only person I’d gone to school with my entire life. Kindergarten through undergrad. I thought, hey, that’s kind of neat and probably pretty rare. I can’t think of too many memories of growing up that didn’t include Emily in some way. 

Growing up in a very small town means everybody knows everybody. Our class was filled with kids who had known each other forever. We all went to school together, played together, celebrated birthdays together, did Scouts together…you get the point. In our eighth grade year, we consolidated schools with the next town over (not a huge deal, since we would have done so for high school the following year anyway). Still a small school, same vibe. 

Emily and I didn’t hang in the same core group of friends, but we did marching band and Lifesavers (peer counselor group) and cross-country together. She became a Christian early in high school, and that soon became her ultimate focus and passion. She was one of those rare people who made Christianity cool. Everyone knew where she stood, and even if they didn’t agree with her, they respected her for her convictions. She and I led team prayers before each girls’ cross-country race our senior year, and not all on the team were believers. But no one minded, and they appreciated the ritual. I’m fairly certain that was thanks to Emily’s kind way of sharing her faith. 

We ended up attending the same private Christian college (Wheaton) and crossed paths occasionally, in the dorm or at track meets. She always had a smile on her face. 

In the years since college, Emily married her college sweetheart, he completed medical school, and they began growing their family. Three biological children were followed by adopted twins, followed by another biological child. By all firsthand accounts, she rocked at mothering such a large brood. She also managed to keep it real on social media, often admitting her failures and shortcomings as a mom. She didn’t sugarcoat the challenges of adoption or of raising a large family. Always tying everything to the anchor of her faith in Jesus, she constantly maintained that everything she did was only by the grace of God. On many occasions, I found myself convicted by her posts to seek God more fervently. 

Now here we are. This friend won’t get to finish raising her beautiful children or continue loving others around her as she did so well. I didn’t attend her memorial service; a 14-hour drive each way was just too far. My heart was torn on Monday as I longed to be physically present with Emily’s family and friends to grieve. I’m thankful for the woman who live-streamed the service for those unable to attend, so we could mourn her loss and celebrate her life from afar. 

It’s so unfair. It really is. I am angry and so unbelievably brokenhearted for her closest family. I am not God, and I definitely wouldn’t have chosen this way to write this story. The knowledge of Emily’s deep faith brings comfort, and I trust that she’s rejoicing in heaven right now. But at the same time, the thought of the crushing grief her husband, kids, and all of her family are experiencing, is hard to accept. What God is doing in all of this pain, I don’t know. 

“You will show me the way of life, granting me tell joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” Psalm 16:11

No matter what, this is a reminder to me, to all of us who cared for Emily, to embrace the life we’re given. Sometimes I think we forget how, in the end, we really have no control over our fate. I don’t fully appreciate the gifts of my life or the sweet moments as they happen. Emily’s death is reminding me, all the time, to take what God gives and do my best with it. Whether my life ends in fifty years or tomorrow, am I making the most of the gift? Am I being obedient to God? Am I telling people how much I love them? Am I truly living out that love? 

I’m reminded of song lyrics by Nichole Nordeman: 

I want to leave a legacy.

How will they remember me?

Did I choose to love?

Did I point to You enough to make a mark on things? I want to leave an offering. 

Child of mercy and grace who blessed Your name unapologetically…to leave that kind of legacy.

Surely Emily has left an incredible legacy of love and faith, and that’s what I hope to do whenever my time comes. 

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

What kind of legacy do you hope to leave in the world? How do you want to be remembered?

Faith, Finance, and the Future

By on August 27, 2016

Something we haven’t addressed much on this blog is our faith. It does influence our lives daily, but we’ve chosen to write about our journey with money, leaving our faith somewhat in the background. At times, guilty thoughts creep in. Is it wrong to write about something so trivial as money?

However, I am learning to be okay with the fact that I’m writing and blogging primarily about our financial journey. It’s not trivial; it’s a huge part of our lives. Every aspect of our lives can be focused on faith in God, but that doesn’t mean ignoring the day-to-day realities of existence. If we chose to dwell solely on spiritual matters, we might make some ridiculous choices based on faulty Biblical interpretation.

We might reason that God will take care of us, so work is unnecessary. Wrong interpretation of Bible verses about contentment could convince us that pursuit of any accomplishments is vanity. Faith might become an excuse for not seeking to be the best we can be.

Tons of verses in the Bible refer to money: earning it, managing it, giving it away. Not gonna bore you with an exhaustive list, but I want to bring up just one reference. I Timothy 6:10 is well-known to many of us, as even those not raised in a church environment have undoubtedly heard some misquoted version of it.

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

I have been struggling to get a firm grasp on exactly what I wanted to say here about the role our faith in God plays in our lives. Perhaps the most important way our faith directs our money philosophy is that we never want to cultivate a love of money. Some of our goals at times may seem selfish, and that’s absolutely not what we hope to be. This verse captures a big part of our mission.

Although it might not appear this way, the terms “financial independence” and “early retirement” do not equal a Love of Money. In a way, that’s what I worry people will think when they read this. That we are out to make lots and lots of money ad infinitum. Get rich and spend all our days lounging on a yacht on the French Riviera.

Of course, you who know us recognize that this is a ridiculous assumption. Our goal right now is not so much to make more money, but to save more money. Obviously, if amassing more cash were our ultimate goal, I wouldn’t have chosen to be a stay-at-home mom this year. We’d be saving my entire salary.

Instead, we weighed the options and deemed having one parent at home with the kids more valuable for us at this time. Even when we eventually return to being a dual-income household in a couple of years, we won’t be inflating our lifestyle to match our income. We’ll take advantage of greater earning by saving and investing more.

Why are we doing this? Is it to become millionaires and do nothing for the rest of our lives? Of course not. To us, early retirement is a term that more accurately jives with what the couple at Slowly Sipping Coffee dubbed a “Fully Funded Lifestyle Change”. We imagine a life that includes greater freedom to travel throughout the year because we’ll be able to delegate work to others for a week or month at a time. The freedom to take lower-paying jobs that more truly fulfill our passions would be amazing. Enjoying the chance to be more fully present in our boys’ childhoods because we won’t be perpetually stressing about money sounds incredible.

All of these ambitions, to me, don’t shout “love of money”. Our plans tell us that we recognize money for what it is: a tool. Tools can be used for good or for harm. An oven can cook you a delicious lasagna, but it can also burn your hands. It’s not the oven’s fault if the user makes a mistake. So it is with money. Neither good nor evil, it is merely a tool we use in our daily lives.

Mr. COD and I (and most of you reading this) don’t dream of having money just for its own sake. We envision being frugal and smart with our money in order to one day be able to leave an inheritance to our children. Teach them to live debt-free.

Being wise with money also means being able to be wildly generous with money. (As Dave Ramsey would say, “live like no one else, so that later, you can live and give like no one else.”) Few things excite me more than the thought that someday, we might be able to start a scholarship fund for needy students. Or fund missionary trips around the world. Or feed the hungry right here in our hometown. We want to be extravagant givers.

Love of money, not money itself, is the root of evil. We have to acknowledge the ways we have it easier than most of the world. Our sincere hope is to steward our money well because our faith teaches us that it’s not even really ours to begin with. We don’t want to hoard it, but rather make wise decisions about how and when we spend it. Honoring God with every decision we make is paramount, and that includes monetary decisions.

We have known a lot of people going through extremely tough times lately. It’s always like that, but there are periods of life when the hard times seem to come more frequently and relentlessly. Our friends lost their twin babies the night of their birth. Another has a six month old baby facing major cancer surgery in a matter of weeks. My former student was severely injured in a motorcycle accident that took her fiancĂ©’s life. Finally, a close friend and neighbor from my hometown received the shattering diagnosis of stage-four cancer. She is a wife and mother to four beautiful young children.

The heartbreaking news for our friends and loved ones make us fearful at times. Somehow, they also solidify our desire to make the most of the time we have left here on the planet. None of us knows what the future may hold, and there are ultimately very few things we can truly control. Accidents happen. Illnesses develop. Relationships deteriorate. Faith gives us peace in the midst of it all.

It is the unflinchingly unpredictable nature of life that makes us want to embrace the time we receive. God has blessed us here and now with the gift of life, and we need to savor it. Drink it all in. Be present with our loved ones while we have the chance. Money? No, that’s not the goal. We love God, each other, and the lives we build together.